The Retired State Employees Association is trying to put some political pressure on legislators to override Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veto of a cost-of-living raise for retirees.
The association circulated a message pointing out that many of the legislators are up for re-election and adding that support for a veto session should be the litmus test at the voting booth this fall.
About 130,000 retirees were affected by Jindal’s veto to increase — by an average of $30 — monthly benefit checks.
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said he doesn’t think the retirees’ pitch is going to sway too many legislators one way or the other. “Different groups try to intimidate us all the time, whether it’s LABI (Louisiana Association of Business & Industry), teacher associations or just anybody,” he said.
A veto session is an uphill climb. Legislators have not held one in the four decades since the latest Louisiana Constitution went into effect.
The message circulated by the Retired State Employees Association notes that legislators overwhelmingly supported the 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for retired state employees, teachers and others, while at the same time aware that Jindal would veto the pension increase. The legislators can use the vote to tell their constituents they supported the increase in benefits. But that’s misleading, RSEA says.
“Now, unless they come back and override Jindal’s veto of this particular bill,” RSEA stated, “we, the people, cannot believe that they truly wanted this bill to pass. The major test for the ones who are going to be running for re-election is to come back for an override session of this bill.”
Retired state employees should make a point of asking legislators if they voted to come back for a veto override session and that question should be asked while lawmakers are on the campaign trail seeking voter support in the October elections, RSEA said.
The legislation, House Bill 42, sponsored by Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, would have provided the cost-of-living adjustment to help retirees struggling to meet rising costs of the state’s health insurance program. The money is available in a special account set up for the granting of COLAs.
RSEA is asking its members to call or email their legislators. A veto override session, if the lawmakers support one, would convene July 21 at the State Capitol.
Legislators have until midnight Thursday to notify legislative leaders if they think a veto session is necessary. If a majority of either the House or Senate vote against convening for an override, a session would not be held.
The retiree COLA bill is one of nine measures Jindal vetoed from the 2015 legislative session. He also line-item vetoed some items in the state budget bill.
In his veto message, Jindal said granting the pension check boost “jeopardizes the state’s credit rating by violating previous retirement reform efforts.”
Jindal referred to a law passed in 2014, which specified that COLAs could be granted every other year. He said the retirees got a COLA in 2014, so one was not due this year.
That law limited both the frequency and amount of future benefit hikes so more money would go toward reducing the $19 billion long-term retirement systems’ debt.
Jones said there was no way the COLA would jeopardize the state credit rating and argued that Jindal had not considered the reforms in the bill that would lead to the systems becoming financially stronger sooner.